在如此高壓下的環境，我都察覺到人們說話更小心了。在甘肅等其他省份，有時我們香港和中國朋友之間私底下都會願意講關於中國的敏感政治問題，甚至希望改善人權。不過，來到新疆／東突厥斯坦，大家講得更小心了。看見維吾爾人，問他們中國語言政策的情況，他們都不太願意得罪中共，最多只願意向我暗示一些值得憂慮的情況！ 問他們當地人可不可以留鬍子，他們只敢說老人可以年輕人不可，但他們不會主動告訴你他們喜不喜歡中共這樣做！ 有一次，我在公路另一個中途站，進入另一間店舖，只見有一個小店主。自己只問她為何新疆那麼多軍警這條簡單的問題，她卻馬上轉移話題問我喜不喜歡其他種類的水，還說我們己經民族平等，不願多回應。可見，在高壓的控制和無孔不入的監視下，很多人都很壓抑，不能暢所欲言。
可見，新疆／東突厥斯坦一帶的高壓措施雖然能夠反恐，卻同時為這一帶引入了極權式監控和壓制。在這一帶走，看到兩個標語。一個是「人民公安永在你身邊」，令不少人有一種「Big Brother Is Watching You」的感覺。第二個是「溫馨提示: 營區監控全覆蓋 請自覺規範你的言行」。看完之後，心中馬上明白，這裡，就是中國政府的「歐威爾省」。
如何解決這類不滿？ 中共眼中有兩種想法。可是，我認為這兩種方式都不能根本地解決當地的問題！ 因此，我還會提供3種其他人都有想過的辦法。
1. 沿用高壓政策: 中共和清王朝一樣，認為中國只能用高壓政策解決伊斯蘭問題。高壓政策背後的想法是伊斯蘭教徙好勇鬥狠，難以教化，因而支持將新疆變成警察國家。短期而言，暴力確實是將問題在一定程度上壓住。可是，以暴制暴只是惡性循環。事實上，清王朝、民國軍閥、中共高壓政策數百年來統治下，經常發生當地人反抗運動、騷亂一類問題。即使今天中共加強反恐、監視、高壓政策，都未有停止這類問題。這樣下去，恐怕只會增加維族人不滿，令當地問題更為惡化。
2. 銀彈政策改善民生: 當然，中共的另一套方法是改善當地人生活，令民怨減少。一帶一路、西部開發正是為了改善西部地區基建、交通，令他們經濟條件得以改善。當然，這樣能在一定程度上減少人民怨氣，自己都認同我們需要改善人民生活。不過，貧窮只是新疆／東突厥斯坦問題的其中一部分，當地問題還來源於高壓的監視和打壓，更是來自維吾爾人在語言、宗教、人口問題所受的威脅。即使他們富裕起來，也會因這類問題而感到不滿。
Before discussing the Xinjiang/East Turkistan Problem, I will first tell you what happened on the first day of my Xinjiang/East Turkistan trip.
On the first day, our car arrived at a highway’s midway station. I got out of my car to use the midway station’s washroom and entered their shops. At that moment, I saw a few Chinese shopkeepers with red arm sleeves and they were selling Chinese medicine. As I were accustomed to take photos on interesting things beside me, I decided to take a photo immediately.
At this moment, a shopkeeper in the shop suddenly commanded me not to take any photos.
After listening, I thought that I couldn’t take any photos on the Chinese medicine but I could still take photos on other interesting things in the shop. Therefore, I asked the other shopkeeper a few more questions about taking photos.
I didn’t expect the shopkeeper to look at me ferociously after hearing my question. As a result, both the shopkeeper and I turned the situation into a stalemate as both sides stared at each other for a few seconds without solution. Everything ends until my friend brought me out of the shop quickly soon after he noticed everything.
Soon after, we arrived at another shop for a meal. As I believed that this shop is different from the previous one, I took a few photos at the front of that shop. Still, my friend informed me to think twice before taking a photo. My friend also informed me to beware of police, soldiers, security guards and Plain clothes police who are wearing red arm sleeves and never take photos on these people.
I have seldom seen these situations in my life and these scenarios seldom occurred in other cities and places in China. Therefore, I suddenly had a depressed feeling and I gradually became aware of the state’s penetration into every aspect of your life.
After listening to my friend’s advice, I asked: ‘Is taking photo a part of my freedom?’
My friend reply: ‘Well, here is Xinjiang.’
By telling this story, I believe that readers can truly understand the fact: The Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang/East Turkistan is executing a series of Orwellian monitoring and suppressive scheme. Though a genuine copy from the Orwellian totalitarian society is a difficult task, the state’s enormous penetrative monitoring and suppression is the common essence for both Xinjiang/East Turkistan and the totalitarian society in the book ‘1984’.
The above experience allowed me to understand that there are inside information about Xinjiang/East Turkistan problem which normal Chinese neglect, this stimulated me to observe deeply and ask questions with the Hans and Uyghurs during the journey (Of course! I asked them carefully). Though many information came from the Chinese Government, observation and deep discussion can still deeper my understanding. After returning home, I have read some sources from the Chinese, Uyghurs and the international community. This confirmed some of my findings and helped me to get a more detailed picture.
Without the help and information of many Hans and Uyghurs, this essay will face a huge difficulty in completing. In order to protect their identity, this essay won’t leak their personal information and it will keep their identity confidential.
Besides, while the Hans like to call this land ‘Xinjiang’, the Uyghurs like to call this land ‘East Turkistan’. Therefore, I decided to discuss about this place with both ones.
When I am writing, I have decided not to name this place as ‘autonomous region’. Instead, I will name this place as a ‘province’. That’s because ‘autonomous region’ is only in name and the locals are not allowed to elect their own local government and determine their own internal political, economic, religious and cultural affairs.
In the next part, this essay will analyze the suppressive policies of Chinese government in different perspectives. Other than turning Xinjiang/East Turkistan into a police state with surveillance and suppression, the Chinese government will execute ‘assimilation’ in terms of population, language, religion. Of course, economic suppression is also an important area. At last, this essay will discuss different solutions of Xinjiang/East Turkistan problem.
According to the Chinese government, since the People’s Republic of China ruled Xinjiang/East Turkistan, there was a great flow of Han Chinese into this area and this helped Xinjiang/East Turkistan’s development. After 1949, a lot of Hans grouped together to enter Xinjiang/East Turkistan. Soon after the announcement of Reform and Opening Up in 1978, more Hans moved into this region. According to the government, while the flow of Hans into this region helped local development, they respect the local culture and it is beneficial to Xinjiang/East Turkistan.
However, a coin has 2 sides. If one side of the coin is the great increase of Han population, the other side of the coin represents the ingenious fear of the decline of their culture due to the threat of assimilation. If one side of the coin the drastic economic development due to increase of population, the other side of the coin represents the lost of local’s employment opportunity.
In this trip, we gained an opportunity to go for a walk in Urumqi and Shihezi. Amazingly, you will discover that the Hans have a huge population comparing to a small group of Uyghur in these two cities. Shihezi has no difference with normal Han cities, because most of the people who are walking on the streets are Hans, most of the signs on the street and the shops use Han language instead of Uyghur’s language. The only remaining Uyghur culture is their folk dance, which the Hans learned and performed on opened area. In some sense, Shihezi represents Xinjiang/East Turkistan future, a place which completely assimilated by the Hans. Regardless of the true intention of the government, the consequence of the great increase of Han population in this region posts a great threat to the local culture.
Shihezi is a city developed soon after the Hans entered Xinjiang, but over 90% of the city’s population is Hans. Even in Urumqi, in 2010, Hans even occupied 74% of the total population. According to Lin Bo Wah, while 3/4 of Xinjiang/East Turkistan’s population is Uyghurs, it drastically decreased to 45% in 2000. However, the Hans faced a great increase in their total population in these years.
According to the Chinese Communist Party, such a great flow of population can help local development. However, this will also place the Uyghurs in a difficult situation because they will face great competition in their employment opportunity and resources distribution.
Though a great flow in of Hans stimulated the local development, the Uyghurs can’t satisfy a lot from the fruits of economic development and their culture is facing a lot of threat.
From the above, this essay mentioned that local’s economic opportunity and culture are facing a great threat from the Hans. However, according to the Communist Party, they respect local’s culture and language. In our trip, some pro-communist individual claimed that China had achieved racial equality and they would respect the lifestyle of other races. They even claimed that their schools in Xinjiang/East Turkistan had ‘Two languages education’ (Teaching both the languages of the Hans and the Uyghurs).
Be fair, the local’s culture is preserved in a certain degree. However, the other side of the coin represents the fact that this culture is facing a lot of threats. When we were observing Uyghur’s local dance and the signs on the street, we could observe the Uyghur’s language. On the streets, we could still observe people who were speaking Uyghur’s language. However, when I was discussing with an Uyghur privately, that Uyghur informed me a fact: Uyghur’s language is very difficult to learn and you need to spend a few years to learn their language in University. My Uyghur friend even told me a story. In this story, my friend spoke with a Uyghur teenager, that teenager even didn’t understand how to write and pronounce the word ‘computer’. After this incident, my friend urged that teenager to understand Uyghur’s own mother language and never forgot the importance of learning your own language. From the above, readers can observe the fact that Uyghurs are starting to forget their own language.
In reality, though Uyghur’s language is still allowed, it is facing a lot of threat. When travelers observed the signs on the streets and the shops, though some signs will show both the Han and Uyghur’s language, these shops will put the Uyghur’s ones aside and make them smaller. This implies that the Han language is having a greater importance. For some signs, there are only Han languages without the Uyghur’s ones. In Shihezi, most signs are only written in Han language. According to Chang Pin Li, though there is a educational programme named ‘Two language education’, in practice, some schools only used Han language, some students can’t speak their own Uyghur’s language. This showed that the Uyghur’s language is facing a great threat in the government’s assimilation policies.
In terms of religion, we are glad that there are plenty of Islamic mosques. I have also visited 2 of them. This showed that Islam is still allowed.
However, we are disappointed about the fact that the Communist only allowed Muslims who listened to their orders. When we are discussing with a pro-Communist Hans and speak about religion. The pro-Communist Han replied: ‘The Party allowed religious freedom, as long as you are patriotic, loyal to the Party and don’t criticize Socialism.’
When you are visiting Islamic mosques in China, these mosques will always hang some patriotic and loyal slogans, asking people ‘Thanks for the Party, Listen to the Party’s words and follow the steps of the Party’, ‘Thanks for President Xi, Thanks for Communist Party, and Thanks for the great motherland’. This showed that most Islamic mosques are allowed because they are the ones controlled by the Party. All mosques, religious group required official recognition. The religious organizing bodies are favorable to Communist control and their activities should gain government’s recognition.
Religious groups and practice that are regarded as conservative and not loyal enough are banded by the Party. When I was staying in East Turkistan/Xinjiang, I met an old man with a beard and a lady beside him. I asked the lady whether every person in this region were allowed to grow a beard. The lady replied: ‘Only elders, but not the young people.’ However, she refused to explain more. In normal Islamic region, female are allowed to wear a veil, but female in Xinjiang/East Turkistan are not allowed. In normal Islamic region, many male will grow a beard, but only a few old men in Xinjiang/East Turkistan will and the remaining people can’t. The reason is obvious. In the eyes of the Communist Party, these customs represent religious groups that are conservative and disloyal to the Party. In 2017, ‘Xinjiang’s People’s Congress’ also officially ban these customs again.
In the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party, as long as you don’t cross their bottom line, you can have freedom. However, this bottom line is unacceptable and suppressive to many Uyghurs.
5. Police State
When you are visiting Xinjiangg/East Turkistan, you will observe a huge group of police and soldiers position themselves on many streets, you may also observe some plain clothes police (The type of police I mentioned at the front part of this essay) in some corner of the streets. Although police and soldiers usually don’t allow us to take photos on them, I still take a few secretly. In fact, nearly every entrance of the city, important tourist spot, hotel, hospital and even some restaurants will install a lot of security checks and police. The streets and hotels are full of Closed circuit television. When you speak with the people who support the Communist, they will tell you that the Chinese government installs these measures in order to stop terrorism.
Be fair, I won’t reject this idea. Making Xinjiang/East Turkistan into a police state can really prevent some terrorist activities. In my trip, I haven’t seen any terrorist attack and we were secure. However, police state is a double-edged sword, if one side of the coin is ‘Anti-terrorism and public safety’, the other side of the coin is ‘totalitarian suppression’. Therefore, on one hand, the police can stop terrorism. On the other hand, the state installs them to supervise people’s act, to prevent and suppress anti-communist acts and speech. When there are protests and activities which threaten the Party, these police can suppress them easily.
When you are walking on the street, walking inside the hotel, you will easily observe plenty of Closed circuit television. Even when you are staying in a democratic country, you are less likely to feel easy about them. Though the government, companies are restricted by some laws and institutions and they are monitored by the public, scandals like the ones exposed by Snowden will still appear. However, in authoritarian countries like China, the usage of CCTV’s data is uncertain and it may turn into the State’s weapon in public surveillance.
Under this suppressive environment, people speak more carefully. In other China’s province like Gansu, we can still talk about some sensitive China’s political topics privately among friends from Hong Kong and China, we can speak about human rights privately. However, when we arrived at Xinjiang/East Turkistan, many people spoke more cautiously. When we met the Uyghurs and asked them something about the official language policies, they fear about the Party and they only hinted some worrying situation. When we asked them whether they can grow a beard, they could only tell us the basic fact: ‘Old people can but young people can’t’. However, many of them won’t tell you whether they are satisfied with this policy! On one occasion, I arrived at another Highway midway station, I entered another shop and I saw one shopkeeper. I only asked a simple and not sensitive question: ‘Why there are so many police and soldiers in Xinjiang?’ She immediately changed the topic and asked me whether I like different types of water and tell me that all races are equal now and refuse to answer my question. From the above, we can conclude that many people are depressed and can’t freely express their opinion due to the severe suppression and supervision.
Therefore, while Xinjiang/East Turkistan’s suppressive policies can counter terrorism, it bring totalitarian control and suppression to this region. When I was visiting this Orwellian Province, I saw two slogans. The first one named ‘The people’s police are always beside you’, which gave people a feeling similar to the slogan ‘Big Brother is watching you’. The second one named: ‘a warm reminder: The whole area is under our supervision, please beware of your speech and act.’ After observing this, I understand the fact that this place is ‘The Orwellian province’ of China’s government.
From the above, the Communist Party’s policies, according to Lin Bo Wah, are separated into 2 types: ‘Assimilation’ and ‘Suppression’. Assimilation implies China’s government conspiracy to allow the Han population, language and culture to monopolize the whole China. Suppression represents suppressive policies against religious groups and practices which are disloyal to the Party and policies which turned this region into a police state.
How the Uygurs view the Chinese government? When I was discussing with a few Uygurs, some were very patriotic and loyal to the Party. On one occasion, we visited one Uygur family, they only sold excellent fruits to Chinese and they sold the bad ones to the Japanese. Some of them really hate Chinese and even raged terrorism. Some were willing to discuss with Han people/Chinese like me, but they would privately inform us their discontent on Chinese government’s ‘language’ and ‘beard’ policies. Therefore, there are discontent within the Uygurs.
How to solve them? In the eyes of the Communist Party, there are 2 methods. However, they are not that effective and I will provide 3 more solutions.
1. Continue suppressive policies: The Chinese Communist Party and the Qing Kingdom are similar in one area. Both regimes believe that only suppressive policies can solve everything. The underlying idea of these suppressive policies is the idea that Muslims are violent, hard to educate and police state suppression is the only solution. In short term, violence can really suppress these problems in a certain degree. However, a tooth for a tooth is only a vicious cycle. The Qing regime, the warlords in the Republic of China and the Chinese Communist Party have used suppressive policies for a few hundred years, but these policies never stop the locals joining rebellion and having riots. Though the Communist increase surveillance, anti-terrorist and suppressive acts, they never stopped these acts from happening. This vicious cycle will only increase the hatred of the locals and create more problems.
2. Use money to improve people’s basic living standard: The Chinese Communist Party will also try to improve people’s living standard to control their anger. By ‘One-Belt One-Road’ and other Western developmental plans, these plans can improve the Western region’s infrastructure, transport, and improve their living standard. This can control people’s anger in a certain extent and I believe that improving their basic economic rights is essential. However, eliminating poverty is not an adequate solution because suppression, state monitoring, language, religion and population problems will still bring discontent to Uygurs even when they become richer.
3. Chinese government allowed genuine autonomous ruling
In my eye, if the Chinese government allows genuine local autonomy and the majority of Uygurs accept this solution, this can provide a peaceful solution to the problem. If some open-minded reformers become the ruling group of the government or China become a democratic regime, the new government should allow Xinjiang/East Turkistan to establish ‘Special Administrative Region’, or they should allow Federalism, which enable the locals in Xinjiang/East Turkistan to become a State which can determine their own affairs. The future ‘Special Administrative Region’/‘State’ will establish democratic constitutionalism, protect human rights, prevent tyranny, they can practice ‘Internal Self-determination’ by determining their own internal political, economic, cultural and religious affairs. If Chinese government allowed greater freedom and local autonomy, this can also reduce a lot of tension between the Hans and the Uygurs.
Of course, hardliners are occupying the Party’s leadership. Even scholars who are urging for genuine autonomous rule like Ilham Tohti were also put into prison by the Party. This solution can only occur when democratization occurs in China or an Open-minded leadership changes everything.
4. The Chinese government allows peaceful separation
In the Western World, Canada allowed Quebec to stage referendum to decide whether they would become independent, Britain will also allow Scotland to do so. Even the Spanish government don’t, Catalonia have enough freedom to stage their referendum. Therefore, allowing the locals to use a referendum or democratically elected
Local Parliament or Constitutional procedures to give the locals autonomy to decide their own future is acceptable.
Though this solution is idealistic, it will face a huge problem. Many Chinese overemphasize the importance of national sovereignty without enough respect to individual and community autonomous development. If the election or Local Parliament decided to make Xinjiang/East Turkistan independent, but the Hans refused to accept the electoral result, will this result in a great ethnic conflict? As we are not certain about this, we only wish both Uygurs and the Hans can peacefully and rationally reach a decision accepted by both sides.
5. Violent revolution
However, if the Chinese government refuses to use peaceful means and continues their suppressive policies, reform will become hopeless and the Uygurs can only use violent rebellion to solve problems. While Hong Kong and Taiwan’s society encourage non-violent protests in general, Xinjiang/East Turkistan’s culture is completely different and they encourage violent ones. In nowadays, some angry Uygurs usually join riots, some extreme ones will even create terrorist attack, which I personally don’t agree at all.
If the Communist Party faced a huge economic or political crisis and finally decline, the Central government won’t get enough money and personnel to suppress all regions. If this finally happen, the Uygurs might take advantage of this and start their violent struggle for independence.
Of course, the end of this story is a bloody ending which no individual will gain any benefit. Nowadays, Xinjiang/ East Turkistan are occupied with a lot of Hans/Chinese like me. Even many of them came for only a few decades, they have a huge emotion on this land. During this trip, a Han Chinese informed me that he was not only a party member, but also a Chinese militia who received military training. When there are emergent situation, he will give up everything to protect China’s interest and his home in Xinjiang. If Uygurs start their violent struggle for independence while the Han Chinese want to preserve their home and basic interest in Xinjiang, a civil war between two race will happen. In worse scenario, it will even turn into civil war similar to the ones in Bosnia, Yugoslavia in 1990.
Visiting Xinjiang/East Turkistan allowed me to understand the enormous conflict and problems in this region. I finally understood the locals’ discontent on the government’s religious, population, language, cultural and economic policies. I finally understood the government’s suppressive and totalitarian policies. After writing so much, I only wish the Han Chinese and Uygurs can peacefully resolve the conflict without stepping into the road of suppression, civil wars and violence.